Thursday, July 23, 2015

Holding Out for a Hero - Prairie on Fire

As a person who writes, I learned something that is valuable. The secret to successful writing is emotional intelligence. I know ground-breaking isn't it? The hook for readers is the emotional connection to the characters in the story, not necessarily the story itself.

For example, I am currently working on my new novel, "Prairie on Fire," which takes place in western North Dakota. I wanted to write something fresh and new, and something that is near and dear to my heart, yet a story that can be lived by the readers as well. I knew I had to write what I know.
What I know is this: It is rare in any novel that the hero is a Native American. What many people don't know is that more Native Americans serve in the United States military than all other ethnic groups combined. When Native Americans are portrayed in film or literature, it is the stereotypical Native American from the late 19th and early 20th century. We need a 21st century Native American hero.
The main character, Devin Goes Along the Road, is an army veteran who suffers from PTSD. He tries to live a simple life with his fiance' and her mother. The home that he has known all his life is rift with land grabbing, environmental hazards, and now, there is a new threat. 
In 36 hours, Devin's life will change - forever. Everything he thought he left in the mountains of Afghanistan has surfaced in an explosive chain of events that ignites a fire no one expected, and only Devin can put out. But, only if someone will believe him.
Watch for "Prairie on Fire," coming soon to on-line book retailers.
I'd like to thank my Native American friends on Fort Berthold for their support and consultations of "Prairie on Fire."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Millennial Entrepreneur - Courtny Evanson, CEO at Innovative Mother

This week in the Millennial Entrepreneur series, I was fortunate to catch up with one of the busiest entrepreneurs in Fargo-Moorhead, Courtny Evanson. Ms. Evanson, not yet 25 years old, is the inventor of the Nevaeh and CEO at Innovative Mother. Courtny has taken the phrase "Necessity is the mother of all invention" to whole new level. Here's what she had to say about being an entrepreneur and inventor:
(Q1:) You seem to have a lot of drive and passion. Tell us more about the source.
 My passionate drive began when I became pregnant and took on the responsibility of caring for another life. When my son first came into this world I never knew how much I could love another human being. My passion is fueled daily with hugs and sweet kisses from my son. He has become the inspiration I need to keep moving forward and his smile is my motivation to work even harder. As a single mom it is important that I become a positive role model in my child’s life and development.  I want to be the proof my son needs to encourage him to set his sights high and dream big no matter what the world may tell him.
 (Q2:) Did you ever think you would be a CEO before you turned 25?
 I never thought in my entire life that I would ever be a CEO. Business never interested me whatsoever, I dreamed of a fast paced adrenaline rushing career in the medical field. I thought business was boring and consisted of sitting at a desk 40 hours a week. Being a CEO has been anything but that. My blood gets pumping every time before I step on a stage, in front of an audience, or a business meeting. I feel like starting a business is like playing a game of chess, full of strategy and what pieces are you willing to give up to reach the king to win the game.
 (Q3:) What scares you the most about being a CEO? How do you handle that fear?
So far public speaking has been the biggest thing I have struggled with. I have overcome this by never turning down a presentation or speaking opportunity. Every time before I speak I’m like I can run out of here right now I don’t have to do this, but then I force myself to get up there and speak and tell myself I won’t die from this.
I have also struggled with not having a background in business. After I won Women’s start-up weekend it was a little overwhelming because I felt like now after winning the Fargo-Moorhead area had some very big expectations of me. I was very out of my comfort zone maneuvering the business world that was mainly dominated by men.  I have had some defiantly awkward and funny conversations with men about my product and how it works. Usually breastfeeding is out of their domain unless they have little ones at home.
 (Q4:) Where did the idea come from for the Nevaeh? 
 The idea for the Nevaeh blossomed soon after my son was born and he was unable to breastfeed and formula was not an option since he was allergic to every brand on the market. He suffered from 14 allergic reactions within the first year of his life from all the different brands of formula that Aden was introduced to. My only option was to use a breast pump to provide nourishment for my son. I used the pump 8-12 times a day for on average 30 minutes per use. Every day I was spending 6 hours sitting stuck within 3 feet of an electrical outlet unable to move, lie down and rest my sleep deprived body, or take care of my child. I also worked as a Certified Nurses Assistant and Medication Aid at an Assisted Living Facility and I was unable to pump when I needed to because the residents I took care of and passed meds to came first. I suffered horrible infections and mastitis. I went on like that for eight months until I was finally able to quit. I’m glad that I was able to provide the best nourishment for my child, but it was not an easy one.
 (Q5:) You have a son. How do you balance work and life? 
 I don’t believe life will ever have a balance. I typically go with the flow with what is going on in my life. When I have business events or presentations my son’s father, his family, my family, and friends have all aided in helping me juggle the busy life of being a single mom and entrepreneur. My son loves it because he gets to spend equal time with both of his families and I have time to focus on work when I need to and he has all of my attention when we are together.
 (Q6:) What are your plans for the future? College or no? Why or why not?
I am considering going to college for a business degree so I can make better choices for my business and understand more about the vast business world. I was thinking maybe going to MSUM for their entrepreneurship certificate that gives you tools to run a business, but not a degree. I don’t think I need a degree because there are plenty of examples of entrepreneurs that don’t have degrees. I have gone to workshops, business boot camps, and  round table discussions to learn business from business people.
(Q7:) Who has been the most influential person in your life? How have they contributed to your success as an entrepreneur?
One of the most influential people in my life I would have to say would be my track coach from West Fargo High School, Darrin Boehm. He saw my potential in me before I saw it in myself. Also Betty Helmer, the director at the Perry Center who gave me hope when I had none and helped me begin my journey on the right path.
(Q8:) Being an entrepreneur is not an easy endeavor. What is your best advice for someone wanting to become an entrepreneur?
My advice for someone pursuing becoming an entrepreneur is, do it for the right reasons. I began as an entrepreneur because of I thought of a product out of necessity not because I wanted to become famous, rich, or never have to work. If money is your motivation that drive will begin to fade when people realize how much a business costs to start. I started on this journey to make a difference in this world and so other mothers do not have to suffer through sleepless nights to provide their child with the best nourishment. I want to be an inspiration to other single young mothers like myself and that when you have a child your life isn’t over, it’s just beginning. If it  wasn’t for my son coming into this world I wouldn’t be who I am and I wouldn’t be on this grand adventure of starting a business.
Learn to fail with grace. Through the past year while starting my business I have competed in 3 competitions, 16 presentations, and numerous business events and workshops. Of the three competitions I lost two, one very horribly. It was a competition for a grant program, Innovate ND; I had not completed any of the business boot camps beforehand like the other competitors and had jumped right into the competition. I had to do a 60 second pitch and a 10 minute speech. The 60 second pitch went pretty smoothly, but then the 10 minute speech I completely butchered. I felt calm and collected and went in front of 4 judges and 1 bystander. I started my speech and then I went to click the clicker in my hand and it didn’t work. I guess I was supposed to stand behind a podium next to the screen in front of a laptop to change the slides. Which completely through me off and I forgot my whole speech, my 10 minute speech turned into 2 minutes. Also one of my ideas to do with breast milk is illegal in the US. (for some reason Dr. Stamp knew that fact).
I also competed in Start-up weekend in Bismarck and pitched a new idea other than the Nevaeh. I did not even make it past the idea round where the audience votes on which ideas go on to present in front of the judges. I think that my idea was not a popular one because the audience was a room full of college students not parents or women. An engineering company that I was working with out of Madison Wisconsin loved the idea that pitched at that event more than the Nevaeh. So I know it’s not a bad idea and one I would like to pursue once the Nevaeh hits the market.  If you truly believe in your business venture you can make it a possibility. Don’t listen to what everyone tells you, I talked to people about my idea and was told no one would ever buy one. There is a lot of risk, cost, and work involved so weigh out the choices before starting a business and it’s not going to happen overnight. I was very unrealistic in the beginning and I thought I’d have InnovativeMother up and running selling thousands of Nevaeh tables around the globe.
“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Don’t sweat it if you don’t have a 5 year step-by-step plan throughout the process you will find the answers. 
Thank you for participating in the Millennial Entrepreneur series, Courtny! If you would like to learn more about Innovative Mother and the Nevaeh breastfeeding table, please contact Ms. Evanson through her LinkedIn account: Courtny Evanson

Monday, July 6, 2015

Millennial Entrepreneur - Kaytlin Dargen Photography

Last week I had the privilege to interview one of Fargo-Moorhead's most sought-after photographers, Kaytlin Dargen of Kaytlin Dargen Photography. What is unique about Miss Dargen is she is 17 years old. She has an amazing eye, and a creative flair that just won't quit. Her style and charming personality doesn't take away from her professionalism. Here's what she had to say about running a business at 17:

Q1:) You seem to have a lot of drive and passion. Tell us more about the source.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a very visual person. It started out when I was little and became really engrossed in the arts, like I don’t think there’s a school assignment I haven’t doodled on. So a lot of my passion comes from the love of art in all its forms and the way that images connect with me. My drive and passion seems to be fueled by the beautiful work that other artists are producing. I follow an insane amount of photographers and other visual artists on social media and seeing what work they’re producing definitely makes me want to keep stepping up my game. And sometimes I’ll see some of their work and it’ll hit me especially hard, and I’ll subconsciously take notes to be able to add to my own mental pallet so I can grow as an artist as I kind of absorb the elements that connect with me most strongly, if that makes sense hahaha.

(Q2:) You're 17. Did you ever think you would be a professional photographer at 17 years old?

Definitely not. It was only a year and a half ago where I was in probably the worst mental ditch of my life, because I had this great big dream of being able to make a living off of the one thing that truly makes me feel fulfilled but I figured I’d never be able to do it without a big, expensive fancy camera set up. The camera I had back then was an entry level DSLR that was a Christmas gift from my mom a couple years back. I loved the thing, but none of my favorite photographers were using $500 cameras and there was no way me nor my family could afford a professional setup. However, during my high school years I made the right connections and joined the right clubs and was the Historian for Student Council and DECA, so I was always taking photos for those clubs. With that I somehow kind of worked up the reputation of being my high school’s go-to photographer, and that summer I started getting bookings for senior photos. Convincing myself that my work was worth a reasonable amount was SO hard, but when I finally did it, I had zero backlash and ended up booking about 35 seniors that summer and used that money to buy my own top of the line camera setup, which is by far my proudest accomplishment to this day. 

(Q3:) What scares you the most about being a CEO at 17? How do you handle that fear?

I’m really terrified of peaking early on, creatively and business-wise. My ultimate goal is to never stop getting better and find my niche and be on an upwards route from here on out. I’m still really working on finding my own style. I can look at photos from my favorite photographers that I’ve never seen before and instantly know who took it because they’ve found their own distinctive style and I’m really looking forward to the day I can do that too. Biggest fear would be not finding that distinctive style that I could be known for, and I’m handling it by of course looking forward to the fulfillment that would bring.

(Q4:) Let's lighten things up a little bit. You're doing shoots for rock bands is that right? Tell us more about what that's like.

Yes I do! Not a lot of people know that Fargo has one of the most tight-knit and remarkable music scenes of the country, and it’s all thanks to a little DIY venue called The New Direction. Tons and tons of local and out-of-town bands play there, and I’m usually there taking photos for the bands and the venue. I recently just got a wall of photos up in that venue, and that wall means the world to me. I love knowing that I get to document the talent and passion that those bands bring through this town. I also occasionally get to shoot big concerts, usually out in Minneapolis which is way incredible. That happens when I find out one of my favorite bands is coming through and I email them hoping to get a photo pass, and sometimes luck out and get a front row seat and the chance to shoot a band I love. I’m never happier than when I’m at one of those concerts, singing along while shooting. These concerts usually have awful lighting and you can’t predict what’s going to happen, so I love the challenge.

(Q5:) You've made a name for yourself in the high school senior pictures market. What was your favorite shoot?

My favorite shoot would have to be the first one I did with my new camera. It was with my friend Morgan, and I remember literally almost being in tears looking at how incredible the photos were turning out after using my old camera that was a fraction of the quality for so long. I still freak out occasionally during shoots when the lighting or setting is just right and everything comes together just as I’d hoped.

(Q6:) You just recently started shooting weddings. What are you thinking when you first arrive at the wedding?

Weddings can be kind of REALLY nerve-wracking. You have to be ready to catch every little detail, and don’t forget about any big details, all while staying sociable and friendly as to not stress the bride out any more than necessary hahaha. I’ve lucked out in that both the weddings I’ve solo shot have had the most laid-back, lovely couples and bridal parties and I leave those weddings with new friends and feeling on top of the world. Biggest fear would be getting home and finding that a memory card got corrupted or something like that. Before I started doing weddings, a lot of my photographer friends told me that they strongly advised against doing weddings because they’re so stressful, but I really haven’t felt that fear yet so I’m definitely going to ride that out and see how far I can get in that field. I am a firm believer that every single couple deserves beautiful wedding photos, I know that some photographers discriminate against the couple’s looks or chosen venue or stuff like that, and I frankly find that awful.

(Q7:) If you could choose any photographer in the world to mentor your career who would it be and why?

It would definitely have to be Jordan Voth. His portraits are what kept me inspired during that mental rut I hit a year and a half back, his use of light and setting leaves me dumbfounded every time. He lives in Seattle and takes advantage of all the beautiful scenery around there and is a huge reason why Washington is my #1 place I can’t wait to visit someday. Sometimes I look at my own photos, and I’m literally like, ‘What would Jordan Voth think of this?'

(Q8:) What are your plans for the future? College or no? Why or why not?

At this point, I have been lucky enough to make the right connections as to where I think I might be able to spare myself of any more time sitting cooped up in a classroom. I much prefer learning one-on-one with my photographer friends. I want to learn from people who are at a place in life where I want to be someday, and who are teaching me exactly what I need to know, not sitting in a college classroom getting generalized knowledge that may or may not be useful down the road. A year ago I thought I would go for Photography, but after talking with those professors I learned that their curriculum is really outdated and irrelevant to what I want to be doing, and frankly there’s no way I’m going to subject myself to anymore classroom time than I need. Which is funny to me, because I got straight A’s in high school because I would stay up all night making sure my assignments were perfect so I could get into a good college, but now I’m like ‘where would I be now if I had taken that time I stressed on schoolwork and focused it on photography instead?’ If anything, maybe I’ll take some business classes, because like what the heck are taxes?!

(Q9:) A ten year old with mom's old camera tells you they want to be a photographer when they grow up. What do you tell them?

I’d tell them to make that camera an extension of themselves and pour their heart and soul into it, and don’t get discouraged when recognition doesn’t come easy and fight to make a name for yourself regardless. Don’t get jealous of other people who are excelling in your field, befriend them and learn from them and be inspired by them. Make the right connections and never stop trying to find your own distinctive style.

(Q10:) If time and money were no object, what is your all-time dream photo shoot? 


Thank you, Kaytlin for taking time out of your busy schedule to participate in the Millennial Entrepreneur series on Butterfly Phoenix!

If you are interested in booking a session with Kaytlin, please visit her website at:

She is currently booking high school senior photos and weddings.Who knows where we will find her in ten years. Best of everything for the future, Kaytlin!